Richard Thorp: Actor best known as reformed character Alan Turner in 'Emmerdale'


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The Independent Online

When Richard Thorp joined Emmerdale Farm in 1982 as Alan Turner, manager of NY Estates, he quickly gained an onscreen reputation as a boozer and womaniser. Off screen the actor found himself treated on a par with "nasty" JR Ewing of Dallas, taxi drivers refused to pick him up and he once managed to empty a tea room in Harrogate simply by walking in. Nine years later, the Yorkshire soap opera's baddie had mellowed and become the genial landlord of The Woolpack pub – and a bit of a buffoon. The serial itself changed, too, when its title was shortened to Emmerdale and the stories become more raunchy.

Thorp was the programme's longest-serving actor, recently celebrating 31 years in it. He once told me over a generous slap-up restaurant meal that the money and job security enabled him to dine out regularly. "I've always loved my food and enjoyed good wine," he said. In the process, Thorp ballooned to more than 18 stone.

His character's dramas included a failed attempt to reunite with his estranged wife, a broken engagement with his secretary, Caroline Bates (Diana Davies), and a marriage to a former prostitute, Shirley Foster (Rachel Davies), that ended in tragedy when she was shot dead in a post office raid.

Alan sought a quieter life after suffering a mild heart attack in 1999, selling the pub and later running The Grange B&B. But there was further drama when his daughter Steph, played by Lorraine Chase, arrived under the pretence of seeking reconciliation after a 20-year absence, then tried to kill him.

Six years ago Alan resolved to retire and live a quieter life at Keepers Cottage with his friend Betty Eagleton (Paula Tilbrook). His storylines became fewer as Thorp's own health deteriorated. In 2009, the actor had a knee-replacement operation and bemoaned the following year: "I'm more like the village memorial now than an active character."

An earlier generation would recall Thorp from 1959 to '61 in the popular hospital drama Emergency – Ward 10 as the suave heart-throb Dr John Rennie, who romanced Sister Carole Young (Jill Browne). The producer told him he could have the part if he lost weight within six weeks. "I lived on black coffee and fizzy water," Thorp told me. "I was so dizzy I kept bumping into things, but I got the role." Thorp's character was catapulted to his own series, Call Oxbridge 2000 (1961-62), giving him a new life as a GP in a country practice, and another spin-off, 24-Hour Call (1963).

Born in Surrey, Thorp had childhood ambitions to act but started working life writing advertising copy for his father's shoe business, Lily & Skinner, including the line "Men's shoes that men choose". At the same time he performed in amateur dramatics, and being sacked by his father for frequent bad time-keeping enabled him to train at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

After theatre work, Thorp's big break came in the Second World War RAF film drama The Dam Busters (1955) when he was cast because of his resemblance to Squadron Leader Henry Maudslay, who died in the real-life raid on Germany. In the same year he played Barbara Lyon's boyfriend, Derek, in the first television series of Life with the Lyons (he was previously in the BBC radio version). The sitcom starred an American family headed by the showbusiness husband-and-wife team Ben Lyon and Bebe Daniels.

Thorp also played John Caldwell, the ship's second officer, in another sitcom, All Aboard (1958-59). Then, while in Emergency – Ward 10, he met the actress Maureen Moore, who played Nurse White, and she became his first wife in 1960.

His other films included The Barretts of Wimpole Street and The Good Companions (both 1956) and in the early 1960s, between acting jobs, he ran a wine business. But television soon became Thorp's most regular source of work. Apart from one-off roles in drama series such as Danger Man (1961) and The Avengers (1963) and the sitcoms And Mother Makes Three (1973) and To the Manor Born (1981), he acted the market inspector, Martin Pruner, in the ITV serial Market on Honey Lane (1967), with the title shortened to Honey Lane for the second series (1969).

He returned to soap as Vera Downend's Merchant Navy sailor boyfriend, Doug Randall (on and off, 1973-75), in Crossroads, leaving after complaining about the pay. In the final series of The Cedar Tree (1978), a 1930s period drama, he played Geoffrey Cartland. Though he appeared in the West End in Murder at the Vicarage (as the vicar, Fortune Theatre, 1977) and Moving (Queen's Theatre, 1980-81), Thorp rarely took theatre work. "I don't like doing the same thing night after night," he said. "I have the most appalling stage fright. I get sick."

Apart from good food and fine wine, Thorp's great love was motorcycles and for many years he rode on one to the Emmerdale studios. He was the proud owner of a Harley-Davidson Electra Glide 1340cc – "the sort of thing they escort American presidents with," he said. Thorp, who suffered a heart attack in 1994, was married and divorced three times, lastly to Noola Delany, a floor and location manager in films and television.

Anthony Hayward

Richard Stanley Thorp, actor: born Purley, Surrey 2 January 1932; married 1960 Maureen Moore (marriage dissolved; two sons), 1968 Lynn Mellish (marriage dissolved; one daughter), 1980 Noola Delany (marriage dissolved; one daughter); died Shrewsbury 22 May 2013.